Nothing springs up anxiety in a 11-year-old student quite like the possibility of having to hold hands with a member of the opposite gender, let alone having to dance with them in public.
This was the most nerve-wracking scenario for fifth-graders at Vaughn Elementary on the Key Peninsula who were asked to join Dancing Classrooms, a dance class where students are given the opportunity to learn manners and social etiquette through ballroom dance.
“I was a little nervous that I would have to hold a boy’s hand,” Layla Hawkins, 10, said. “But after awhile I thought it was really fun. I like the merengue and rumba.”
Dancing Classrooms is in its second year as a program at Vaughn Elementary. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to cultivate essential life skills through dance. Vaughn adopted the program in spring of 2016 after the local Rotary club presented the idea to the school board.
“It helps support positive behavior,” Principal Lillian Page said. “It teaches grace and manners. It has also really built a sense of being a team among our fifth grade class.”
The program has been so successful that students at Vaughn will be headed to a championship dance competition in June.
We learn how to respect each other and our own boundaries. We talk about social issues and body issues. As a teacher, I think it’s amazing and the kids love it
Vaughn Elementary fifth grade teacher Heidi Heistand
Fifth grade teacher Heidi Heistand said her students, along with a second class of fifth grade students, participated in a dancing competition between six other fifth grade classes from schools in the Puget Sound area.
Each trimester there is a competition between six schools, Heistand said.
Vaughn’s fifth-graders came in first place during their competition, moving them on to the Colors of the Rainbow competition on June 9 at Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way.
With the competition still a few months away, students are getting a lot of time to practice together before they start their careers as middle schoolers.
Having Dancing Classrooms in the fifth grade is a great way to prepare students for middle school life and the unique challenges that comes with puberty, Heistand said.
“We moved the class to the fall semester to break the initial awkwardness,” Heistand said. “We learn how to respect each other and our own boundaries. We talk about social issues and body issues. As a teacher, I think it’s amazing and the kids love it.”
Page supports the class because it helps older students learn how to act in social gatherings, and gives them the confidence to break the ice and meet new people.
Dancing Classrooms was launched in 1994 as a nonprofit project of the American Ballroom Theater Company (ABrT) in New York City, according to the organization’s website. It is an arts program teaching ballroom dance to the upper elementary and middle school students of participating schools throughout the five boroughs.
Page said students learn an array of dances such as the waltz, rumba, salsa and line dancing. Vaughn Elementary students are taught by Adam Lee and practiced during the fall semester until their competition in December.
“They learn the basics and learn to work with partners,” Page said. “They also get to switch partners and try new things.”
Parents of students in the program are also really loving the class.
“We get a lot of comments about our boys practicing dances with mom,” Page said. “Moms are really loving that.”
Students enjoy the class as well, and fourth-graders watching their older classmates dance in the halls makes them excited for the next school year.
“They were definitely more excited about it this year because they saw the first round of classes last year,” Heistand said.
Luca Marchio, 10, said he loves the class because it’s like “getting an extra recess.”
“My favorite dance is swing,” Marchio said. “It’s full of moves and is energizing.”
Marchio, who’s other love is soccer, said he was overly excited when his class won first place at their competition in December.
“I’m excited and nervous,” Marchio said when asked about the June competition. “It would be really cool to win a medal.”
Hawkins said she nearly fell out of her chair when she found out that her class won first place. Hawkins enjoys writing, music and dance.
“I learned I need to communicate with my partner,” she said. “It helps me memorize and be quick on my feet.”
Hawkins said she wishes the upcoming competition was sooner than June because she wants to start practicing again.